DUDERSTADT, Germany—After an earthquake devastated Haiti Jan. 12, leaving hundreds of thousands of dead and injured in its wake, Otto Bock HealthCare was quick to respond with its skills, services and financial support.
The global polyurethane product maker and producer of prosthetic limbs immediately pitched in to help by launching a fundraising campaign called “Children in Need—Help for Haiti” through its Otto Bock Foundation, formed in 1987.
It wasn't easy getting aid to Haiti at first because the country is one of the poorest in the world and the island's transport infrastructure was destroyed during the earthquake, making it difficult to move materials and products.
The Duderstadt-based company's foundation—in cooperation with various partners, including some European businesses and other foundations—has been raising money to provide medical-orthopedic care for as many seriously injured children as possible, assuring they have mobility with prostheses, orthoses and wheelchairs, according to Scott Schneider, the firm's North American region chief marketing officer and vice president of its Global Socket Technology business unit.
That fundraising effort will remain in place until the injured are dealt with, he said.
He estimated that between 2,000 and 4,000 amputations have been reported in Haiti so far.
In addition to providing financial assistance, Schneider said, the company donated a lab-on-wheels to the Ivan R. Sable Foundation. The lab was then shipped to Haiti to replace one destroyed in the earthquake.
Otto Bock, a member of the Polyurethane Manufacturers Association, worked with Johanniter, an international aid organization, to get the fully equipped, generator-run prosthetic lab to Haiti.
Similar in size to a large horse trailer, the lab comes with everything needed—from ovens to grinders—to handle prosthetic care, a company spokeswoman said.
Once a prosthetist—a person who fits people for prosthetic limbs, creates the limb and trains recipients to use them—takes the patient's measurements and determines the appropriate compounds needed, the person uses the lab to heat plastic used to pull over a positive cast, creating a socket.
From there, a grinder is used to reshape the part before the component is attached and aligned.
It's similar to other semi-custom manufacturing because each device is made for a specific person, she said, adding that in terms of looks, the lab is not much different from a workshop.
Another lab is needed as material and product needs increase to help get people back on their feet, Schneider said, and the situation transitions from critical/life-saving initiatives to long-term, sustainable solutions, including providing patients with prostheses.
Otto Bock will continue to give both product and financial support for the labs, products and materials, Schneider said.
The foundation is focused on providing mobile labs but is not limiting how funds it donates are used.
The company makes a line of orthopedic products for children, Schneider said. “Our foundation's initial goal is to save lives. à We can help most with the amputees.”
Otto Bock is hopeful other urethane and rubber product makers and suppliers will step forward to help the earthquake victims by donating to the Otto Bock Foundation. The link to the foundation's relief effort is http://hilfe-fuer-haiti.de/index.php?id=245&L=1.
Other foundations and organizations involved in the efforts to aid Haiti, the spokeswoman said, are listed on www.aopanet.org.
The company has several plants in North America, including a facility in Minneapolis, where it employs about 225. The Minnesota site serves as the headquarters for its U.S. arm, Otto Bock HealthCare of the Americas, established in 1958. It also has facilities in Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Toronto.
The firm uses urethane in a variety of prosthetic items, including custom and off-the-shelf-liners, sock-like products in which the urethane helps protect the residual limb from forces outside the rigid prosthetic socket, according to Scott Weber, market manager for feet, socket technology, knees and materials.
In addition, Otto Bock's prosthetic feet need polyurethane for adhesion and for the functional characteristics the material provides, he said. “The urethane adheres the carbon fiber plates together, and also adds functionality like multi-axial motion.”
That can be optimized with different durometers and different geometry of the urethane, he said.
A newer material, Polytol, is a polyurethane-based resin Otto Bock uses to create prosthetic sockets, which are the custom portion of a new prosthetic limb. “Polytol can be used to allow for some areas of the socket to be soft for comfort and other areas to be rigid for support,” Weber said.
The company was founded in Berlin in 1919 and is currently headed up by President and CEO Hans Georg Naeder, grandson of founder Otto Bock.
In addition to prosthetics, it makes wheelchairs for adults and children along with strollers with special seating; bath safety products, including lifts; sports braces; and other orthotic devices.
The latest Haiti campaign isn't a first-time effort by the Otto Bock Foundation and the company.
In the summer of 2002, when Eastern Europe was hit by what was then termed the flood of the century, causing enormous damage and suffering, Naeder and his wife, Antje, helped mobilize the entire Otto Bock network to organize a major relief effort. Company partners, customers and subsidiaries, including the firm's operation in the U.S., stepped up to raise $685,200 for flood victims.
And when a tsunami ravaged large sections of the coastal regions of Southeast Asia and took more than 300,000 lives, the foundation immediately began another relief effort. Within two days of the disaster, company employees were on hand to fit the first victims of the disaster who lost limbs or those with mobility problems.